Sale of local foods to schools, hospitals, universities, and other large food purchasers has increased in recent years. This creates opportunities for food producers – especially mid-scale producers – to sell large volumes of their products, and earn more than they typically would in a wholesale market. Schools serving local food are finding that, when local food is paired with educational programming, students are more receptive to eating vegetables. Hospitals recognize the health benefits for patients and staff, and are increasingly integrating local food offerings into their menus, in addition to other initiatives that encourage improved diets.
As farm to institution sales increase, it will be important to address the challenges and opportunities that come with participation. Producers and buyers new to farm to institution transactions must learn about complex certification and procurement practices, and insurance requirements. Current law (Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 7, § 23B) asserts that State institutions ‘shall’ purchase local foods, allowing them to spend up to ten percent more for local foods. However, there are currently no methods for tracking these purchases, nor repercussions for State institutions not purchasing local food. In many cases increased awareness is needed among food services staff about area farms in order to find available food in the right quantities, particularly in the off-season times of the year. Public schools, whose food buying is done using federal money, also have federal procurement regulations with which to comply.
In addition to policy reform, continued collaboration between food producers, buyers, and support organizations has the potential to positively impact agricultural and seafood economies, and the availability of local foods for a range of populations.
Recommendation 7.1: Reform and implement local food procurement policy for institutions.
Action 7.1.1: Mandate minimum local food procurement for State universities and colleges, in addition to State agencies, and provide adequate reporting requirements and staffing for enforcement.
Action 7.1.2: Increase purchase allowance for local foods for all State colleges, universities, day-care providers, and K-12 schools.
Action 7.1.3: Increase funding for State agency and institutional local food procurement.
Action 7.1.4: Establish a tracking mechanism and reporting requirement for local food purchasing by public institutions.
Action 7.1.5: Establish benchmarks for local food procurement by State institutions. Consider modeling these benchmarks on already existing benchmark goals, like the Massachusetts Executive Branch’s targets for purchases from minority- and women-owned businesses.
Action 7.1.6: Develop guidelines for municipalities to increase the threshold below which they may make direct purchases to enable larger purchases from farms.
Action 7.1.7: Develop guidelines for private institutions to create policies and standards for increasing local food procurement.
Recommendation 7.2: Commit and leverage resources to increase for farm to sales.
Action 7.2.1: Commit funding for technical assistance services and resources for farm to institution producers and buyers.
Action 7.2.2: Develop and maintain an accessible, central inventory of institutions, farmers, fishermen, processors, and agencies in the farm to institution network to facilitate communication and distribution among the producers, buyers, and organizing agencies.
Action 7.2.3: Track, label, and market local food distributed through farm to institution channels as ‘local.’
Action 7.2.4: Promote best practices for local food procurement. Build on best practices used by institutions procuring local food, and research from buy local groups and other industry service providers, including by expanding efforts to collectively procure local food by public institutions and by developing innovative procurement practices to enable more regular local food purchasing, particularly in public schools.
Recommendation 7.3: Increase participation of food producers and buyers in farm to institution procurement.
Action 7.3.1: Extend local food procurement programming to more public and private institutions, including primary and secondary schools, universities, hospitals, health care facilities, correctional facilities, elder care facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, and other food retail businesses.
Action 7.3.2: Fund and offer training programs to educate institutional purchasers on local food procurement, from food purchasing to preparation.
Action 7.3.3: Work with institutions on navigating challenges related to changing food procurement practices.
Action 7.3.4: Increase distribution of locally caught or raised seafood in institutions.
Action 7.3.5: Increase opportunities for the production of value-added food products for farm to institution distribution. Examples are fresh or frozen cut fruit and vegetables, and more complex, processed foods, like fish cakes.
Action 7.3.6: Encourage programming that complements farm to institution initiatives in public and private universities and schools, such as schoolyard gardening, and agriculture and nutrition education.
Action 7.3.7: Encourage programming that complements institution initiatives in public and private health care facilities, such as vegetable prescription programs.